Northern Men and Votes for Women

Leah Leneman tells the little-known story of the role played by Scottish men, in the campaign to get women the vote in the years before the First World War.

The history of the women's suffrage movement in Britain has almost invariably been told as a solely feminine effort; the part played by men has been forgotten. In reality there was male involvement from the earliest stages, although only one organisation – the Northern Men's Federation for Women's Suffrage – made headline news.

There were three main women's suffrage organisations in the Edwardian period, and their attitudes toward men varied markedly. The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), comprising the 'constitutional', non-militant societies, accepted men as members, while the militant Pankhurst-led Women's Social & Political Union (WSPU) did not. The women who broke away from the Pankhurst autocracy to form the Women's Freedom League (WFL) carried with them the belief that the fight was solely a woman's fight and that men should not be admitted as members. However, as the WFL was a democratic organisation the decision was not passively accepted, and the issue was frequently debated.

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